Crunching Numberzzz

Posted by Iannucci | 10/04/2007 | 0 comments »
Bookmark and Share

I’ve been holding off while others analyze the new TEAM plan, which annoyingly involves not only an acronym but also the word "Matrix". I mean, I thought no one can be told what The Matrix is.

Silly name aside, I’ve noted before that this new plan isn’t about socialism but rather the encouragement of more participants for the betterment of the product the Indy Racing league presents. A lot of numbers are thrown around, but here are three things to focus on...before you nod off to sleep from trying to analyze the mathematics.

1. Overall the payouts are MORE. There’s and increase from around $25M to potentially (meaning more participants) $36M for total series competition, and Indy 500 purses are up from around $10M to $13M. Greed is good. Greed works. Or so I’ve heard.

2. Full time series participants will get $1.2M for simply racing in every event, whether they finish Sixth or Dead Freaking Last. Same money for all spots except the Top 5, which pay a $10-35K more. I don’t think drivers will suddenly have no incentive to race since the purses are nearly equal; they still want to win, or at the very least finish ahead of the driver in front of them.

3. Indy only participation: from $153K to 270K. This should be the most significant part of the plan, considering last year it cost around $230K to put a “bump day” deal of chassis-engine-tires together. Do the math – it’s Bring Your Own Driver, and potential sponsors should now have a better selection of talent to represent them at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing – thus increasing the likelihood of drama on Bump Day, if not also the quality of competition.

(By the way these numbers come largely from the braintrust at TrackSide Online. Their calculators are far greater than mine.)

In many ways this plan is an experiment, but it’s an honest effort to reduce one of the perenniel complaints from motorsports fans; it’s trying to level the proverbial playing field. Turn on an F1 race and you’re likely going to see a McLaren at the front. Checking out the N-word? Look where the Hendricks cars are. CCWS will likely have a Newman/Haas/Lanigan car up front, assuming the race isn’t cancelled. Even IndyCar hasn’t been any better, with only three teams accounting for nearly all of the wins in recent years.

But at least the IRL is trying to change that. By flattening the payouts the plan is to decrease the likelihood of a team simply buying a victory. It may also increase the likelihood of buying a ride, but if all riders are equal then the race itself becomes more of test of skill than a judgment of who can purchase the greater technology. It’s now easier for skilled drivers to “buy rides”, and in a series that features standardized engines, chassis and tires the emphasis on driver ability is greater than ever.

Of course by “greater than ever” I don’t mean to say driver ability is all that matters, since some equals will still be more equal than others. The Big Three will continue to have more financially involved sponsors, thus increasing their likelihood at claiming victory at Indy or the series championships. But so what? This isn’t supposed to eliminate the possibility of dominance, but rather reduce it.

And one other thing: While many race fans are hoping this will be somehow draw Champ Car teams to the IRL in some kind of de facto merger, I'm looking instead at how many Indy Pro teams it helps to make the jump up. Remember, the IPS went from around 16 regulars to 24 in 2007, and many of those teams would like to move to the top level in 2009. This plan gives them a year to shop for sponsorship that will allow them to do so, because when talking about improving the overall health of the series it's far more meaningful to advance IndyCar talent then try to schmooze some guy away from somewhere else.

The bottom line is the success of this plan will be based on two factors: An increase in participants, and a more competitive balance. If there are more than 18 regulars in the next few seasons, and if someone outside of The Big Three can garner some wins (or at least frequents to podium enough to make them nervous) then it’s off to a smashing success. If it fails to facilitate new entries while the likes of Dixon, Wheldon, Kanaan, and Castroneves continue to account for all of the wins then it’s a load of horse manure.